How and What to Teach in English (EFL) Classes in Thailand

Thai student – copyright jchong, Creative Commons License

During the decade I taught in Thailand, sometimes I ran out of things to teach. When you have the same students, like I did, for two years or more, after a while it’s sometimes difficult to create EFL lessons that are fun, interesting and hold your students’ attention. How to teach EFL in Thailand and what to teach becomes difficult but follow these few easy tips, and you shouldn’t have any problems teaching EFL students in Thailand.


(PLEASE NOTE: this article was actually written when I was still teaching in Thailand – that’s why the present tense)

Most Important Thing To RememberTeaching EFL in Thailand Must Be Fun – The most important thing about teaching EFL in Thailand is that Thais want everything to be fun or ‘sanuk’. If it’s not fun, no matter how important it is, they’re not listening and therefore not learning. So, it’s up to you to find a way to make things fun in every class you teach. I play a lot of games with my students, even my adult students, so I adapt grammar and vocabulary lessons so that I can teach them while playing a game.

One great way to get students to learn grammar or vocabulary is to put them into teams or pairs and give each team/pair 1,000 points. Then ask a grammar or vocabulary question and each team/pair gets to answer. They also get to bet points on their answer so, if they’re really sure they can bet all their points, but if they’re not so sure they can bet only a few points (I have the minimum points set at 50 per question). If they are correct, they are awarded the number of points they bet. If they are not correct, the same number of points are deducted from their point score.

My students, children and adults alike, love this game and it’s adaptable to any grammar or vocabulary lesson. I also give chocolate to the winning pair/team, which definitely helps with their enjoyment.

How To Teach EFL Listening Skills in Thailand – Thai students have an enormous problem with listening skills. Their grammar may be excellent (most Thais’ is), but when it comes to listening to a westerner speak English, many of them are completely lost. Teaching listening skills at least once a month is vital if your EFL students in Thailand are ever going to be able to understand when a westerner (called ‘farang’ in Thailand) speaks.

As far as what to teach in EFL classes in Thailand, I usually do three different types of listening skills:

1) Play a TV show or movie (if you have a 2-3 hour class). Give the students pre-written questions before the movie starts and go through any vocabulary they might need to know, then play the movie and the students have to write down the answers to the questions from what they hear. For low-level students I also play it with English subtitles so, even if they can’t catch the listening section, they can sometimes figure out the answers from what they can read.

2) I download MP3 files from the internet from websites like NPR and then play them in class. Most of them are short, between 3-7 minutes, and again students are given a sheet of questions to answer, then we discuss the answers after the listening file has finished playing. For lower level students, you can stop the MP3 file after the answer to each question has been heard, to make it easier for them to hear it.

3) Dictation is excellent for listening skills. I choose a short passage out of a book, no more than a couple of paragraphs, and read the whole thing outloud. Then I start again at the beginning, and read each sentence, having students write down what they hear. I keep re-reading every sentence until every student has written down what they think they hear. Then I re-read the whole passage again and then each student checks their work for errors. It’s amazing what they mishear, even when the sentence is repeated 10 times, but it’s great practice for listening skills.

How To Teach EFL Speaking Skills in Thailand – Don’t worry about how to teach speaking skills to Thai EFL students, it’s actually quite easy. Another skill that Thais are usually not very good at is speaking English. They’re shy and they don’t have much practice at it. I do several things in class to get my students to speak:

1) Discussion – Choose a topic that they might be interested in and have a discussion. Usually only doable for higher level EFL students in Thailand as lower levels are too shy.

2) Role Plays – I put students into pairs and then assign them a topic to create a conversation about. Each pair has 15 minutes to prepare their conversation and then they give it in front of the class.

3) Choose a Card – I write single words on cards e.g.: elephant, favorite food, my girlfriend, etc. and then each student has to choose a card from a tin without knowing what subject they’ll get. They then have 3 minutes to prepare a 2 minute speech on that topic. If, during the 2 minute speech, they stop for more than 10 seconds they are eliminated. The person or people who talk for the 2 minutes or the longest time are the winners (and get chocolate!)

How To Teach EFL Reading Skills in Thailand – What and how to teach EFL students reading skills is actually quite easy. Reading is usually quite easy for Thai EFL students as they don’t have to make up the words themselves and it’s also a great way to correct pronunciation skills and accents.

I will sometimes do a one-hour class of two tasks. One a dictation exercise that takes 30 minutes and one a reading exercise that takes 30 minutes. To make it more fun for the other students, while one student is reading I have the other students write down any words they think they hear being mispronounced. If they are correct, they get 10 points for every word. If they are incorrect, they lose 10 points.

Writing Skills – I often struggle with what to teach my Thai EFL students when it comes to writing. Writing is often boring and, because Thais want everything to be fun, they usually hate doing writing exercises. I do three things that make learning EFL writing skills more fun, though, any of which my students love:

1) Stream of Consciousness – I give my students five minutes and tell them to write down on paper anything that comes into their heads. I also tell them “Don’t erase anything; don’t correct anything, just write”. The student who writes the most with the least mistakes wins chocolate. What’s surprising with this writing exercise is that, when they don’t keep stopping to think if they are correct or not, I notice their writing skills are actually much better than when they think too much.

2) Board Stories – Each student comes to the board and writes a sentence. The next student has to continue the story by writing another sentence. Any student that makes a mistake in the sentence they write is eliminated. The winner is the one who is left standing at the end.

3) I teach corporate business EFL in Thailand and my students send a lot of e-mails. But, because they are very formal, the e-mails are usually very long and repetitive. I have a couple of students come to class with an example of a long e-mail they sent and each student then has to make the e-mail shorter but still including all the relevant information. The student with the shortest e-mail wins chocolate (see the recurring chocolate theme? But it really does work!)

Teaching EFL in Thailand is actually easy, extremely rewarding and fun. Thais are incredibly nice people and great students to have in class. Just remember, try to make every EFL class you teach lots of fun and your Thai EFL students will love you.